Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, December 28, 2003, pg. 3
In just a short time, one of downtown Albion’s biggest landmarks, the Eslow block, will be demolished. Most people don’t realize however, is that there will actually be two buildings that will be coming down. Also targeted for demolition is the adjoining building, which for many years was the location of the George Caines Paint & Wallpaper, 212 S. Superior St. This week we’ll survey its history and list some of its tenants through the years.
The structure was apparently built shortly after the Eslow Block, as it is found on the 1871 map of Albion. Physician Dr. Frederick Wheelock is listed at the site, with his son boarding there. During the time when Albion became a city in 1885, it was the location the Fred F. Hoaglin clothing store, bearing an old-style address of 38 S. Superior St.
In the late 1890s the 212 site became the location of the George E. Dean Hardware. He also sold bicycles here. This is the same George Dean who laid Albion’s sidewalks in 1901 and later became president of Union Steel Products. As he moved on to better things in life, the building was purchased in the early 1900s by Gustave H. Kilian (1857-1935), a long-time Albion furniture dealer and undertaker for nearly fifty years. Back then furniture makers didn’t just make wooden tables and chairs--they made caskets, too. Their duties included undertaking, furniture making, and picture frame making and framing. It was quite a combination. Kilian moved his business here from 111 S. Superior St. At this time the building became referred to as the “Kilian Block.”
In the early 1910s he sold the business to Lowell A. Lyle, and it became known as the Lyle Furniture Company. Kilian retained ownership of the building, however. The business was sold to Clarence A. Singer several years later during World War I and became known as Singer & Son. They added carpets and rugs to the already established repertoire at the site.
The Eslow Block fire occurred on Sunday, August 31, 1919. The “Singer” building next door and furniture contents suffered major water damage, and a new roof had to be quickly constructed in the week thereafter. The major damage to this building however occurred just one week after the fire, on Sunday, September 7. The weakened fourth floor wall of the Eslow Block unexpectedly collapsed into the new Singer roof. All three Singer floors subsequently collapsed below in “dominos” fashion on top of each other, finally smashing into the basement. The air pressure from the building collapse made the frontage windowpanes blow outwards with splinters flying all the way across the street to the sidewalk there.
When the dust settled, only the street frontage (east) wall remained. The interior of the building was entirely reconstructed with only the original east frontage wall saved. Thus today it can be said that the inside of that building is not original, but everything in it can only date from 1919 onwards.
A word of caution: When rebuilding it, workers discovered that the adjoining Hodges Block (Wilkings Office Supply building) sustained some damage when the “Singer” building collapsed. Apparently the top of the south Hodges wall was pushed inwards, and loosened bricks fell in the attic. What will happen when the old Caines Paint & Wallpaper building is demolished by the low bidder in 2004? Will the “Wilkings” building accidentally go with it because of a weakened south wall?
Back to our chronology. Mr. Singer remained through the early 1920s, at which time the business was sold to John J. Thwaites. Mr. Thwaites expanded his “Furniture Galleries” as it was called, southwards through the entire first floor of the adjoining Eslow Block.
By 1928, the Thwaites Furniture in the Eslow Block had become Bishop-Porter Furniture. The original location at 212 S. Superior St. became the home of the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company grocery and was managed by Leon Hard. This company also had a grocery concurrently at 109 N. Superior St. A & P subsequently moved elsewhere downtown. Albion contractor and roofer Earl Caines moved his paint store here in 1936, and his son George began working there in 1939. George took over the store following World War II and operated it into the 1990s. For many years the south side of the building housed the Christian Science Reading Room. In recent years it served as added space to the second-hand stores that operated in the adjacent Eslow Block.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a close-up of the building during a 1915 homecoming parade. The full photo showing the Dew Flowers car float can be seen on page 15 of my book “Albion in the 20th Century.” For our purposes, we are just showing the left portion of the photo. The side of the awning states “Undertaking.” Above on the building is the sign “Furniture.” On the left in the Eslow Block are movie posters from the Bijou Theater. The sidewalks were high, and there were three steps down to street level.
1915 Homecoming Parade Showing Building
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic